Arrest of land defender a 'big blow' to environmental defense in Central Luzon — group

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Arrest of land defender a 'big blow' to environmental defense in Central Luzon â group
Handout photo shows Joseph Canlas during a rally against the Anti-Terrorism Law at the Supreme Court in February 2021

MANILA, Philippines — An environmental activist group called for the immediate release of a peasant leader based in Central Luzon, saying his arrest is a “big blow” to the environmental defense efforts in the region.

Police arrested Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas vice chairperson Joseph Canlas by virtue of “fake warrant of arrest” in Pampanga Tuesday. Other activists were also arrested when police forces conducted simultaneous raids.

“Canlas has been instrumental in leading community initiatives against large-scale mining and other destructive land grabbing projects across Central Luzon,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE)

Canlas helped farmers and indigenous Aeta communities in campaigns in Mount Abo and was involved in struggles against other destructive land grabs that put at stake at least 75,500 hectares of indigenous lands in Central Luzon, the group said.

“Canlas’ defiance against land grabs and human rights atrocities clearly earned the ire of the Duterte regime, who is allergic to anything that genuinely promotes the welfare of the people,” Dulce said.

The peasant leader has been constantly red-tagged or accused of being supporter or member of the communist rebellion.

“This arrest is a testament to how the Duterte regime institutionalizes red-tagging and the serving of defective arrest warrants, all in the guise of the implementation of the Anti-Terro Law,” Dulce said.

Environmentalists said the controversial measure would exacerbate the human violations experienced by land and environmental defenders. 

The Philippines was the deadliest country in Asia for environmental and land activists in 2019, with at least 43 recorded deaths, according to watchdog Global Witness. 

Police also arrested Pol Viuya, Kilusang Mayo Uno vice chairperson for Central Luzon, in Tarlac.

The arrests of Canlas and Viuya came just two days after the killing of labor leader Dandy Miguel in Laguna. — with report from Xave Gregorio

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